• Franklin

Ecotopia Found! Tat Tvam Asi Organic Coffee Estate in Karnataka, India.

After five months of travelling the world, we’ve finally found an Ecotopia. In all honesty, we haven’t been searching that hard, as a lot of distractions and opportunities have been presenting themselves. We’ve encountered plenty of stunning natural wonders and inspiring groups of people, but nothing has completely hit the spot -- that is, until we met Vishal and Aditi and the rest of the gang at Tat Tvam Asi Coffee Estate.

If you’re anywhere in the state of Karnataka in south-central India and have a spare week or two, take the time to visit this jungle paradise. You’ll find abundant wildlife, rolling hills, soothing waterfalls, mouth-watering food, and of course organic coffee -- all in an off-the-grid farm run by conscious and welcoming people.

We did a Workaway at Tat Tvam Asi (this was the second Workaway of our trip, the first one in the Moroccan Sahara). If Workaway isn’t up your alley, there is also the option to stay in one of their beautiful guesthouses and explore the surrounding nature, while being pampered with three delicious meals a day.

Drying coffee beans at Tat Tvam Asi estate in Karnataka
One of our duties as Workawayers -- drying beans on the farm

Tat Tvam Asi (which translates to “I am That”, one of the central tenants of Vedic spiritually, asserting that individual identity is not separate from universal consciousness) stood out as an Ecotopia for us because of, first and foremost, the relationship they have with the land.

The farm borders a tiger reserve, and is guided by principles of conservation and permaculture. Vishal and Aditi converted a traditional coffee estate into an organic, shade-grown, native-species-filled playground of the senses. Over 1/3rd of the farm is completely untouched wild land and left for the animals to roam freely.

It’s hard to actually call this place a farm because it’s so different from all the other farms we’ve visited. It's more like a piece of jungle in the Western Ghats that happens to have rows of finely-cared-for coffee plants in the understory. Walk for two minutes out the back door of the house and you’re likely to see colorful birds, the world’s largest species of squirrel, deer, snakes, butterflies, and more. Keep going for ten minutes and you’ll find a soothing waterfall. Venture further along the jungle paths to explore meandering streams or grass-covered hilltops.

jungle in the Western Ghats of India
The backyard of our home for 11 days

Vishal and Aditi have a deep respect and love for the land, and this is clear from every aspect of life on the estate. Organic vegetables and herbs grow in the home garden; hives of bees pollinate the plants; they compost all possible materials; grey water is returned back to the land; plastic is used as minimally possible; and there is an entirely off-the-grid power system run by a turbine installed in a nearby stream. Sure, none of these are very new or revolutionary ideas. But, what is extraordinary is to find people completely living out this lifestyle, instead of merely talking about it, and appearing thriving and happy while doing so.

It also is a place almost entirely shut off from the undesirable and invasive aspects of modern society. No noise of scooters or rickshaws, car horns or people yelling in the street. No air pollution or light pollution during the night. No stores or restaurants to tempt the never-satisfied monster of consumerism. Most incredibly helpful for us: no Wifi or cell phone signal, so the desire to compulsively check the phone quickly fades away. With all these inputs left behind and the city an hour-long drive away, more space opens up in your mind for something else. Dreams become more vivid. New ideas and creations emerge. Food tastes better, and your senses are heightened.

drying beans in a coffee estate
Happiness abounding with Vishal, Aditi, and the Workaway crew

The last distinctive feature of this Ecotopia is that Vishal and Aditi seem to be living a rich and meaningful life on the farm. They accept Workawayers from all around the world, hosting an ever-shifting group of eccentric and adventure-seeking travelers. They employ locals and help to support the nearby community. And they are engaged in meaningful things - conservation, farming a delicious organic coffee with utmost care, and welcoming people to their homestay, sharing the magic of their little slice of jungle.

Of course this example may not be for everyone, but it at least inspires us to think about what would be our own version of Ecotopia, and how to go about bringing it into the world.

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